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Chapter 2: The Genesis of the Idea

§ I. The Idea and the Apostolic Literature

THE idea of the person of Christ may, at this point, be best described as an idea generative of a whole literature. Without it the Apostles would have remained silent, mere craftsmen of the lake, the workshop or the school; but from it there came an impulse which drove them into speech. And the speech into which they were driven was an attempt not simply to portray a person but to articulate a system of religious thought. If it had not been for two reasons which, though they look like contraries, are yet essentially complementary, its religious significance and its want of literary distinction, the New Testament would have seemed to us the greatest speculative achievement of antiquity, all the more extraordinary that its authors were men unversed in literature and philosophy, without any knowledge of the problems with which human thought had wrestled or any of the argumentative skill which comes from long discipline in the dialectical art. By a sort of divination, the intuition which a new faith can create in the most simple, the apostolic men saw ideas which the most gifted minds had wished to see but had not seen:—The unity of God so realized in a universal religion as to unite all the families of men; the unity of man in blood and spirit, in source and destiny, the reign in him of a natural law which was good, and of inherited tendencies which were evil; the dream of a development which conceived the race 459as a magnified individual and the individual as an epitomized race, each repeating the stages of growth and the process of education marked and observed by the other; the vision of a sovereignty that never ceased to govern in nature and history, the eternal power and Godhead of the Sovereign being clearly seen through the things that are made, and His beneficence shown in never selecting men and nations for their own sakes alone, but only as agents for the common good; the idea of a humanity of the Spirit, a household of the elect, created by faith in the Eternal and creating obedience to His ends; the conception of a person who is an embodied moral law, with this to distinguish Him from all ethical standards man had ever imagined, that He not only humanized duty but supplied the motive that determined its fulfilment; the notion of this same person, who is the sum of mankind as also the image of God, accomplishing in a moment of colossal existence for all mankind what the election of grace had been attempting to do for each successive generation; the belief that the God who had made all men was so good that He could not be alienated by evil from the men He had made, but suffered on account of their sin and saved them by His suffering; the conviction that all men were amenable to this God, that they must appear before Him, see His awfulness, hear His judgment, and share His immortality, so that His eternity embosomed and enlarged their hour of mortal being and gave to it and to them a dignity almost divine—these, and a multitude more of cognate ideas, all too immense and too novel to be at once appreciated, or even understood, entered the world through the men who attempted to interpret for us the person of Christ; and because of this attempted interpretation, the intellectual system they created was not so much the child of the old world as the mother of the new. It formed the mind which disintegrated the ancient order and organized another on the lines and in the forms we conceive as specifically modern. The source to which the ideas that distinguish society as it now is from society as it once was can be traced back, is a source which has an indefeasible claim to eminence in reason as well as in religion. It were but an idle fancy were we to ask what would have happened had this idea fallen into the hands of Plato and Aristotle rather than into those of John and Paul; only this much is certain, it would have done even more for them and their immortality than they could have achieved for it. If Plato would have clothed it in a pomp of diction more congruous to its innate grandeur, if Aristotle would have analyzed it with infinite subtlety and explained it with incomparable lucidity, it on its side would have enabled the one to delineate a richer, a more humane, and a more practicable society than he has imagined, and the other to define a higher good and find a more potent and palpable ethical motive than he was able to discover. But the absence of the sage and the scholar from its exponents enables us the better to see that the very incompetence of the men it inspired to do justice to the idea exalts its meaning and its power. They by their own art could have done nothing for it; it by its native majesty did everything for them.

But is not this to assume the very issue in dispute, whether they were or were not equal to its production? If they were, there is no question: if they were not, whence did the idea come? Whose was the beneficent hand that started it on its creative career?

§ II. Whether Paul was the Father of the Idea

1. The really significant fact for our discussion is this: While the idea receives what many think its most finished expression in the latest of the apostolical writings, it yet appears in a form quite as transcendental in the earliest and most authentic of them. With it these writings are concerned from first to last; and any differences in detail, in the connexion in which it stands or the purposes to which it is put, and the tendencies that determine these things, only accentuate this fundamental agreement. Now, it is evident that since the idea is articulated in our oldest authorities, which are the great Pauline Epistles, our present enquiry must begin with their author, and we must ask, whether there is in his temper, mind, or history anything that could be regarded as adequate to its causation. One thing is indeed remarkable, the rational sobriety of the writer. If intellectual sanity marked the miraculous narratives of the Gospels, it distinguishes in a still higher degree the Pauline dialectic. It may be impassioned, here and there too sharply antithetical in style, and its sequences may now and then be difficult to follow; but no argument could be more rigorous, no thinking more under the command of reason and logic or more free from the extravagances of the visionary, or the tendency which marks the fanatic, to confuse the imagined with the real, the ephemeral with the permanent. Now it is a question of more than common interest: By what process did Paul come to conceive and formulate his idea of Christ? What was its psychological source? and in what terms may we describe the factors of its origin? The subjective sources, the personal roots, the biographical and historical causes of the Pauline theology, are matters that in recent years have been minutely and curiously investigated, (i.) It has been argued, on the basis of certain narratives and phrases of his own, that he was a man of nervous temperament, prone to see visions and dream dreams; that he was a subject of epilepsy, which was his thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan that buffeted him. What he thought a sore burden and sorrow was the very source of his inspiration; whence came, on the one hand, his vision of Christ, his belief in Him, in His death for sin, in His resurrection and session at the right hand of God; and, on the other, his doctrine of the flesh, of the natural man, and of the body of death, (ii.) It has been argued that his personal history as a Pharisee who believed in the law, convinced him of the weakness of the law he believed in. It imperiously commanded “Thou shalt not covet”1—the point is significant—but did nothing for the suppression of covetousness; and the union in it of the imperious and the powerless made it seem that most intolerable of all dead things—an authority that could not be obeyed yet would not be denied. (iii.) It has been argued, on the one side, that he came to his views suddenly and completely, that by what we may call intuition and he called revelation2 he saw them at once and saw them whole; and, on the other, that he grew into them, taught by experience, by controversy, by seeing how they affected the minds of men in many lands, by the way in which he himself was regarded, and his preaching was handled here by Jews, there by Apostles, in this church by Judaizers, and in that city by Greeks and Barbarians, (iv.) It has further been argued that his idea of Christ expressed the belief that his new life was God's work in him, effected by one he could not conceive as less than God's own Son; and that his theology was his theory as to his own conversion objectified, articulated, made into a system of the universe. Now these may all be interesting speculations, but what impresses one is their inadequacy as causes to produce the facts they would explain. The man is too large to have himself and his beliefs cast in a single mould, or shaped by a single circumstance, or resolved by a disabling constitutional peculiarity which may explain a mood, but cannot explain a history and a character maintained in consistency for a generation amid distracting labours and controversies. Historical and literary criticism has need to sit at the feet of science and learn the lesson that nothing can be accepted either as the sole cause or as the adequate reason for an event which cannot explain either it or its effects.

Paul, then, seems too wide and too complex a person to be reduced to the terms of a single process in a simple and prosaic psychology; and his thought is as manifold as his personality. If we doubt this, we have but to review the attempts which have been made so to analyze the constitutive or structural elements of his mind and theology as to discover their sources, (i.) It has been argued that he remained as he was born and bred and educated, a Jew, especially in his attitude to the Old Testament; but this fails to account for the remarkable fact that, while he used it in argument and as evidence, as he used the light of nature in reason and in conscience, and the lessons of observation and experience, yet he did not find in it the cause of his salvation or seek in It the law of his life. (ii.) The theology of the synagogue has been pressed into the service of explaining his method, his cardinal terms, his forensic ideas, his eschatology and angelology; but this theory is urged in curious oversight of the facts that the synagogue was his most inveterate enemy and that his most enthusiastic disciples were those least distinguished by the Jewish mind or learning. (iii.) The Apocalyptic literature has been made to contribute to the formation of his thought; but its contributions have been illustrative of single points, and these so little distinctively Pauline as to be mainly in epistles of doubtful authenticity. (iv.) It is remembered that he was a son of the Diaspora, and the influence of Hellenism has been traced in his mind. Philo and his school have explained his love of allegory and the allegorical interpretation of events and persons in Old Testament history;3 but this touches only an outer fringe of method and style, not the substance and structure of his thought. As a child of Israel in exile he must have known Greek life, and in a measure Greek thought, in a degree which the older scholarship—which mainly studied his classical quotations—utterly failed to recognize; and so we have had exhaustive analyses of the ideas and terms and even usages he may have owed to the mysteries; the ethical impulse and teaching that may have come from the Stoics; the Hellenic outlook on life and thought which may have come from his birth and upbringing in a Greek city; the ideas of law, the feeling for liberty, the sense of dignity that may have come to him from his Roman citizenship; and the conception of a universal church which he may have acquired through his experience as a traveller within the Roman Empire. But what does this quest after sources, which turn out to be only outer and partial influences, mean? That the man was large enough to have found room in his nature' for all they could bring to him; but that he was too strongly and too distinctly himself to be capable of explanation either by any single influence in particular or by all the suggested influences combined. His personality has to be reckoned with before their action can be understood.

2. As to the whole subject, then, we may say this: while it is not easy to over-estimate the interest of these questions, it is very easy to over-emphasize their worth. The psychological theory which helps us to understand the tendencies which predispose him to believe may do nothing whatever to explain the cause and ground of his beliefs, their intrinsic rationality, their intellectual coherence and cogency, their value to man and their function in his history; and yet it is by these tests that they must be finally judged. Looking, however, at what we may call its natural history, we may note that there were factors which made for the belief as well as against it

(α) There are those which concern the man himself; and here we have to recognize forces which were distinctly hostile. It is extraordinary indeed that a doctrine of such stupendous novelty arose on such a soil in so short a period through such a man; and so tenaciously rooted itself in a mind that was by tradition, inherited prejudice} education or the want of it, so little qualified for its inception or its reception. What is evident is this: the man who elaborated the doctrine was a man who had been trained in Jewish schools, educated in the Jewish Law, and so bred that the passion of the Jew for monotheism and against any intermixture of God with man was woven into the very texture of his thought and speech. He had therefore no natural or acquired predisposition to the belief, though, indeed, he never conceived that by embracing the new he had been false to the old. On the contrary he believed that his monotheistic faith was clarified, enlarged, and preserved more effectually by his doctrine as to Christ than by any form it had yet assumed or any agency that had hitherto worked on its behalf. Faith accomplished that which the law had been intended to do but had failed to achieve—made the God of the Jews the God of the whole earth. He had then a most exalted idea of God, and a most intense abhorrence of the notion that there could be more gods than one. The idea of Christ prevailed only because he conceived that through Him the one God was made the only God of universal man.

But (β) there were certain forces in his mind and circumstances that were prophetic of change. Thus his very passion for the law of his God tended to estrange him from the law of his people; for the people's law demanded an obedience which it could not empower the will to render. It asked so much and gave so little that it filled the man in the very degree of his conscientiousness with doubt and despair. But what the law could not do Jesus as the Christ had done; the power the law withheld He had imparted. And it was this sense of the power which lived in Him that found expression in Paul's theology; and it was an expression which did not proceed from ignorance of what Jesus had been, but was rooted in the fullest knowledge as to the life He had lived and the death He had died. Paul says that he had known “Christ after the flesh,”4 which does not mean that he had had personal intercourse with Jesus while He lived, but it means that he had taken the same external or ceremonial view of the Messiah as the Jews had done, i.e. he had conceived Him as a sort of impersonated ritual rather than as the Spirit that quickened. Yet though he does not say that he had known Jesus in the flesh, we may infer that he had had opportunities for such knowledge. He must have been in Jerusalem, if not at the crucifixion, yet immediately after it He must have heard in the school of Gamaliel the stories connected with the betrayal and the crucifixion. He must thus have come to know Jesus, not through the fond affection of the disciple or the admiration of the man who had believed and loved, but through the criticism of the man that doubted, the prejudices of the man that despised, the hatred of the man who had persecuted. And, as he himself tells5 us, he had acted towards the Church as one whose knowledge was of this cruel and distorted kind. But in the very struggle to obey the law which commanded him to trouble and waste the Church, he discovered two things, (α) its ethical or spiritual impotence, i.e. its power to forbid but its inability to inspire with the spirit that obeyed; and (β) the potency of Jesus, as shown in the men he persecuted, to command obedience and to inspire with the love that was willing for His sake to endure the loss of all things and even of life itself. And this discovery involved a change of relation to Jesus, and therefore a changed attitude to the law. He saw that Jesus had introduced a new kind of obedience, a new ideal of righteousness, a new mode of finding acceptance with God, and that He had, by redeeming man from the curse of the law, achieved his salvation.

This may represent in an approximate degree the psychological process by which Paul came to his view as to Jesus being the Christ. As such it may have real biographical value, and even much critical significance; but it fails to explain the only four things worth explaining; viz., (i.) how he came to conceive Jesus not simply as the Messiah, but as the Son of God, not officially or figuratively, but essentially, i.e. as Himself divine; (ii.) how it happened that a theory which had so arisen could so profoundly modify the man's whole conception of the universe, and take such possession of his intellectual nature; (iii.) how it could create the religion that has been the most important factor in the higher history and better life of the race; and (iv.) how it was that the idea was not peculiar to Paul but common to the apostolical society as a whole, including those men from whom he is conceived to have differed so widely and so strenuously.

§ III. Whether the Idea is the Product of a Mythical Process

While, then, it may be needful to recognize how much the experience and the peculiar psychology of Paul helped to create his attitude of reverence to the person of Jesus, yet we must also recognize how little they can explain either the genesis or the form of his idea. But there is an older and more radical hypothesis as to its rise, what used to be called the mythical theory. The change from mythology to psychology is significant of the new historical method; but the change is more formal than real. The one attempts to get at the subjective cause of what the other studied as a more or less objective process. Historical psychology is an analysis of the personal source, whether morbid or normal, of the ideas or beliefs which, when woven into a system or a history, constitute a mythology.

1. The theory of a mythical and imaginative origin for the idea may be stated thus: The death of Jesus was a complete surprise and disillusionment to His disciples. They had believed Him to be the victorious and immortal Messiah; they found Him to be a frail and mortal man; and in the first shock of the discovery they forsook Him and fled from their own past beliefs. But these beliefs were not so easily renounced; they had begotten hopes too precious to be abandoned even at the bidding of fate; they were endeared by affections too tender to die in the presence of disaster. And so while experience tempted the disciples to acquiescence in the accomplished, which was but the end that Nature has in store for all, the imagination and the heart pleaded for another and more splendid issue. If the death was not to extinguish Jesus, He must be made to transfigure it, and change it into something quite other than the lot common to mortal men. This was the supreme achievement and victory of faith, which could not cease to regard Jesus as the Messiah, but could do a sublimer thing—invest Him and His death with eternal significance. The vision that created the belief in the resurrection made this transfiguration possible; yet the one was a harder and slower process than the other. All at once, as is the way of visions, the resurrection became a credited fact, which the visionaries on every possible occasion affirmed that they themselves had witnessed; but the death had come in an inexplicable, accidental, violent mode. So the one was conceived as God's action, but the other as man's. God had raised Him from the dead, but it was by wicked hands that He had been “taken, crucified, and slain.”6 The Jews had “killed the Prince of Life,” demanding His death even when Pilate “was determined to let Him go.”7 But this crude theory could not long endure, for if “wicked hands” could prevail once, why not again and finally? So a second stage is marked by the acceptance of the customary Jewish explanation of the detested inevitable—it was the Will of God. While Herod and Pontius Pilate, the people of Rome and of Israel had appeared to act, the real Actor had been God; they only did what the hand and counsel of God had determined before to be done.8 But this position had too little reason in it to satisfy the imaginative intellect of the young society. It read with new eyes the Old Testament, found that Isaiah's servant of God was a sufferer for human sin, and all his attributes and experiences were forthwith ascribed to Jesus.9 As this sufferer was “led like a lamb to the slaughter,” so Jesus became “the Lamb of God,” with all the sacrificial ideas of Judaism aggregated round His person and His death. The process once begun, needed for its completion only a constructive genius, and instead of one such, three soon appeared: Paul, who argued that Jesus as the crucified Christ was both the fulfilment and the abolition of the law; the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who made Jesus and His sufferings the antitype which had their type in the elaborate ritual and worship of the old economy; and John, who found in the person, history, and death of our Lord the means by which the world was illumined and redeemed. And so by a perfectly natural, yet purely mythical and imaginative process, His death was transfigured from the last calamity of a blameless life to the act of grace by which God saved the world.

But this theory, however ingenious and plausible, has three great defects: it lacks proof, it is intrinsically improbable, and it fails to explain the facts. (i.) Its proofs are drawn from sources which its advocates have in other connexions, and for what they deemed adequate reasons, discredited. It is not open to the same criticism to prove by analysis at one time the early speeches in the Acts to be late compositions, and at another to use them as authentic evidence for the oldest Christian beliefs. And here the most primitive tradition is specially explicit. When Paul states that it pleased God to reveal His Son in me,10 and that he preached “first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,”11 he can only mean that at the moment of his conversion the belief had been not simply formulated, but elaborated into a system in harmony with the Old Testament, (ii.) As to the intrinsic improbabilities, we have to consider both the men and the theory; it was a belief of stupendous originality; they were persons of no intellectual attainments and small inventive faculty. So far as the Gospels enable us to judge, they were curiously deficient in imagination, and of timid understanding. They were remarkable for their inability to draw obvious conclusions, to transcend the commonplace, and comprehend the unfamiliar, or find a rational reason for the extraordinary. Such men might dream dreams and see visions, but to invent an absolutely novel intellectual conception which was to change man's view of all things Divine and human, was surely a feat beyond them. (iii.) And the improbabilities involve the inadequacy of the theory; it makes Christ, with all He has accomplished, not simply the creation of accident, but it also turns the beliefs and the religion which have so governed the course of history into phantoms of the rude and sensuous imagination.

2. But the mythical theory as here applied offends against certain of the laws which govern human development. It will be enough if three of these be here noticed.

(α) The concrete and historical, or the imaginative and the mythical stage of thought, in both the personal and the collective life, precedes the abstract and the speculative, or the dialectical and logical. In every society, as in every person, the order or succession of mental states is this: the imagination which loves the personal is active and creative earlier than the reason which loves the metaphysical. When mind is fresh and passion strong and the light of love looks through the eyes upon wonders the sobered understanding can never see, the mythical fancy has its creative hour, and weaves for its hero a history which corresponds to its own mood rather than to his achievements. But when experience has subdued emotion and damped the heats of youth, thought awakens, asks for reasons, and begins to speculate about the forms and shadows which looked so beautiful and so substantial in the vision the fancy made. Criticism, in its impulsive and wayward youth, learned this law from philosophy, and, assuming the Gospels to be the oldest documents, analyzed them as works of the mythical imagination, which had, out of a few mean facts, unconsciously created all their pomp of miracle and mystery. But it was soon discovered that the oldest Christian literature was not history but philosophy,—speculation as to Christ, not narrative concerning Jesus. While miracles, as single acts, have in this dialectical literature, if we may so name it, no place, yet in their stead, filling the whole space, stands a person so miraculous that in His presence the most miraculous narratives are subdued to tame prose. There was no doubt imagination in the dialectic, for simply from the point of view of its marvellous vision backward into history, forward into the future with its infinite possibilities of good, upward into the mysteries we denote by the term Godhead or God, and downward into the nature which we name man,—so compounded of the divine and the demoniac, yet so continually riven asunder by their strife—the speculative structure we owe to Paul stands for its imaginative qualities foremost among the dialectical creations of the world. But this only adds to the significance of the fact here emphasized: brief as is the period which divided the oldest Pauline Epistles from the death of Jesus, there has yet grown up in the interval not a mythological but an intellectual system,—the conception of a Person who is at once the interpreter of God and the interpretation of man, the centre of the finely articulated system which has drawn into its diamond network the whole order of history and all the forces which work for or against the good which is its end. And this conception cannot be explained as due to a blind mythical impulse acted on by a reminiscent and regretful love, which sought compensation for the loss of the loved by the eminence of its imaginative creations; for the man who formulates and articulates it did not know Jesus, and so was without the ardour of personal love and the sense of personal loss.

(β) A second law regulative of the formation and interpretation of mythical material is this: Since speculation is later than history, it is the historical incident or event that it most loves to construe. Mythology is the unconscious poetry of nature and history; while philosophy is the attempt of the conscious reason to translate the products of the unconscious imagination into rational theory. But what is peculiar in this case is that the dialectical explication is concerned with the Person and not with the history. It would not have been so extraordinary if the dialectical construction had begun after the lapse of a century or more, i.e., when His figure had grown nebulous and the exaggerative fancy had played its wizard tricks with His memory. Without the exuberant mythology which hides Buddha so completely from the eye of the historical inquirer, the Buddhist schools would have been deprived of the material out of which they have woven their wonderful metaphysical dreams. Without the Persian mind and imagination, looking through a medium of glorifying legend at the figure which had moved across the Arabian desert some generations before, we should never have had those mystic speculations as to the prophet, his word and family and heirs, which go so far to redeem Islam from bondage to the letter that killeth. Not till men had ceased to believe that Greek mythology was true, or that the Greek gods could be what it said they were, did they attempt its speculative interpretation; and ask, whether it was misunderstood history or hidden wisdom, natural science or moral truth disguised in allegory. But here, before the myth has had time to rise, or the legend to become current, or the imagination to transmute base metal into fine gold, the speculative change has been not simply begun but accomplished. In other words, it is not Jesus in His environment of miracle who is interpreted, but it is the Person in His specially historical and religious, ethical and intellectual, significance. The idea seeks to represent and explicate Himself; not His acts and the incidents of His career.

(γ) The third law we wish to note is this: between the speculative construction and the soil on which it grows there must be close and intimate agreement. But in this case the remarkable thing is that the plant seems so totally alien to the soil on which it sprouted and grew. While Paul is an intensely Jewish thinker, and uses forms of thought, figures of speech, and methods of interpretation which he must have learned in the Jewish schools, the idea which he elaborates is the very contradiction of what he must there have been trained to believe. Our first impulse, when we come to understand the doctrine of the Person, is to seek for hints or intimations of it in the Old Testament, and these have been, both by apologetic and exegetical theology, most deftly and exhaustively handled. But the idea has no real parallel in the Jewish Scriptures, for they may be said never to have transcended the notion that God and man formed an absolute antithesis. The affinities of the idea appear rather to be with Greek religion. Indeed, were we writing of a process which that religion recognizes, we might describe it as one of apotheosis. But the term is inapplicable here for two reasons:

(i.) The process happens under a religion which knew nothing of gods who begot men or men who became gods. It was a monotheism, and the man who first shows us the completed process not only never at any moment abandoned in the smallest degree this faith, but he became by the change he effected in its terms its most victorious expositor and missionary. Indeed, it is one of the most remarkable facts in this most curious history—and were we dealing with an abstract question we should call the position an incredible paradox—that the idea of the Son of God who was equal with God, though it seemed most seriously to threaten the divine unity, has yet been the supreme means of its conservation. And this relation to the idea of one God makes the Christian incarnation a belief at once singular and original. In Greece apotheosis meant for both gods and men such a community of origin and such a communicability of nature and status, that the process of descent from the gods or ascent into their society was in the strictest sense natural and normal. But in Israel eternity was the attribute of God and mortality of man, and so, because of the distinction in their natures, Deity could not be communicated to man or humanity to God. And as a curious but instructive fact this difference was not so much reduced as emphasized by the place accorded to Christ.

(ii.) He is not conceived as the subject of a deificatory process—indeed, both term and idea would have been abhorrent to the apostolic writers, who thought that God was as incapable of change as of any beginning of being. Hence they would not have described as divine any one they did not believe to be essentially God; and so they never represent Christ as attaining Deity or achieving a rank which He had not known before. This makes their idea a contrast rather than a parallel to those transmutations of gods into men and men into gods so common in the Greek, the Latin, and the Hindu mythologies.

§ IV. The Historical Source of the Idea

1. The idea seems thus to be too speculative and too original to be explained by a theory which places the imagination before the reason, postulates as already existing the forms to be used, and requires for their growth into organic unity a congenial soil and a suitable environment. How, then, are we to conceive the genesis of this common and creative idea of the New Testament, this constitutive and regulative idea of the Church? Its source must have been one acknowledged and revered by all tendencies and all parties, for only so can their agreement in this and their difference in other respects be understood. And this source could be but one: the mind of Christ. His teaching can explain the rise, the forms, and the contents of the Apostolic literature, but this literature could never explain how His teaching came to be. Postulate His mind, and we may derive from it the Apostolic thought; but postulate this thought, and we could never deduce from it His mind and history. In other words, He is the historical antecedent and the logical premiss of the Epistles, and it is open to no intellectual strategy to invert or change their relations. In His teaching lie principles they develop, but also elements they miss or misconceive. Yet it is exactly as regards His person that the connexion is most close and consistent, the development most precise and logical. He speaks of Himself as the Son who alone knows and alone can reveal the Father; and to this idea Paul traces His conversion, in it Hebrews finds the constitutive truth of the Christian religion,12 Peter the quality by which the Christian Deity may best be defined,13 the Apocalypse the image that makes the Head of the Church most sovereign,14 and John the name he most loves to use.15 Jesus speaks of the Messiah as Son of David,16 so does Paul.17 “The Son of Man” of the Gospels appears nowhere in the Epistles, but its interpretative equivalents, “the second Adam” and “the second man,” are determinative of the Pauline thought.18 The best commentary on the claim that He had come to fulfil the law and the prophets is Hebrews; the most impressive representations of His functions as Redeemer and Judge are to be found in the Apocalypse. It has been argued that there are differences between His and the Apostolic idea; of course there are, but these are notes more of continuity and independence than of contradiction and isolation. Wendt argues19 that the conception of the personal and heavenly pre-existence distinguishes the Pauline idea from Christ's; and Gloatz20 well replies to him that this can be maintained only by one who excludes all reference to the discourses in John and places the most prosaic interpretation on some of the most characteristic Synoptic sayings. If, then, we view the idea as the creation of Jesus Himself, the expression of His own consciousness touching His own being, the Apostolic literature, thought and life may be explained; but if we seek for it some alien and accidental source, bewilderment—literary, historical and biographical—will be the sure result.

2. We have yet to show how the idea as to the Person of Christ created the Christian religion. It is enough that we repeat here, that that religion is not built upon faith in Jesus of Nazareth, but upon the belief that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Without this belief the religion could have had no existence; the moment it lived the religion began to be. And the process of interpretation was a creative process; every stage in the evolution of the thought marked a stage in the realization of the religion. In the synoptic Gospels, we have what may be termed the personal and subjective religion of Jesus, i.e. the modes under which He conceived His relation to God and fulfilled His duties towards man; but had they stood alone, we should have had only one picture the more of the ideal man, a Being to admire and imitate, not to worship and obey. In the apostolical Epistles the Person is interpreted in relation to the religion, and as the interpretation proceeds the religion becomes more clearly defined, distinct in quality, real in character, absolute in authority. We see it become, first, different from Judaism, next independent of it, then absorbent of all that was permanent in it as well as in other religions, and, finally, when Christ is conceived in His divine dignity and pre-eminence, the religion appears as the alone true, as universal in its unity as the one God in His sole sovereignty. In the Fourth Gospel a final step is taken: this interpreted Person is made the key at once to the history of Jesus and to the purposes and the ends of God alike in creation and in redemption. By this means what was actual and persona] is wedded to what is ideal and universal, and each is seen to have been a necessary factor of the concrete result. Without the historical Person the ideal would never have existed; but without the ideal the historical would never have been the source of a universal religion. The historical Person may be described as the primordial and creative or parent form. He defined the religion as essentially ethical, by exhibiting the type of man and character it was intended to realize. Men were to be as He was—sons of God; as gracious and beneficent, as blameless and gentle, as faithful and brotherly towards men; and as reverent and lowly, as pure and obedient, as sinless and holy, towards God. And the religion was to live and grow in the manner He instituted—by making disciples, by creating, through the methods of fellowship and friendship, out of the evil and the neglected, the publicans and the sinners, a society of the like-minded—men who loved God supremely, and their neighbours as themselves. Without the historical Person we should never have known what the religion ought to be, the sort of man it conceived as acceptable to God, the kind of worship it wished to cultivate, the mode in which it proposed to change the old order, and the new society it desired to form. He thus, as it were, determined the quality and inner essence of His religion, fixing for ever its special character and peculiar type. But if the historical Person had stood alone, i.e. if He had been conceived and regarded as a common man, though a man of rare dignity and a teacher of pre-eminent power, we might have had a school, a sect, or a philosophy, but we could not have had a religion. What made the religion was the significance His Person had for thought, the way in which it lived to faith, the mode in which it interpreted to reason God and the universe, man and history. It was this that saved the disciples from becoming the sect of the Nazarenes, and made them into the Catholic Church. It is by virtue of this idea that we have the Christian religion, and that it has lived and reigned from the moment of its birth till now.

3. But this analysis of the historical relations existing between the idea of Christ's person and the creation of the Christian religion has introduced us to a region at once of speculation and criticism. It is not enough to see that in the period of formation every change in the idea of the Person was attended by a parallel modification or transformation in the religion; it is necessary that we inquire whether the idea be in itself essential to religion, whether it has behaved in it like an arbitrary creation of religious emotion, or like a doctrine that is all the more rational to human thought that it so speaks concerning the mysteries of God. We confess, indeed, that the person of Christ is a stupendous miracle, in the proper sense the sole miracle of time. In it the mystery of being is epitomized and externalized. For there is no problem raised by the incarnation which is not raised in an acuter and less soluble form by creation, whether considered as an event in time or as an existence in space. If creation be an event or process, it is something which had a beginning, and in however remote a past the beginning may be placed, yet behind it stands a silent eternity; and though reason may ask for ever what was before the creative process began, what caused it to begin, and when was the beginning, it will for ever ask in vain. Again, if creation be conceived as being in space, then it is from its very nature existence within bounds; but how can the same space hold at once bounded and boundless Being? How can any Being be boundless if once He be confronted by the bounded? Can there be any room in a universe that knows the finite for the Infinite? Does not limited existence, so far forth as real, cancel the very possibility of the unlimited? In short, there is no problem raised by the idea of God manifest in the flesh as to the relation of the divine nature to the human in the unity of one person, or as to the historical origin of such a relation, i.e. its beginning in time; or as to the action of the limited manhood on the illimitable Godhood, which is not equally raised by the inter-relations of God and nature. For in a perfectly real sense creation is incarnation; nature is the body of the infinite Spirit, the organism which the divine thought has articulated and filled with the breath of life. But while the problems are analogous, the factors which promise solution are more potent in the case of the incarnation than of creation. For in nature the idea of God demands for its expression no more than physical and logical categories, but in Christ the categories become rational, ethical, emotional, i.e. they involve personal qualities and relations rather than mere cosmical modes and energies. And so, by investing God with a higher degree of reality and higher qualities of being, it makes all His attributes and relations more actual, all His actions and ways more intelligible and real.

  • 1.

    Rom. vii. 7.

  • 2.

    Gal. i. 16.

  • 3.

    Cf. Gal. iv. 21–31; 1 Cor. x. 4.

  • 4.

    2 Cor. v. 16.

  • 5.

    Gal. i. 13, 14.

  • 6.

    Acts i. 23.

  • 7.

    Acts iii. 13–15.

  • 8.

    Acts iv. 27, 28.

  • 9.

    Acts viii. 30–35.

  • 10.

    Gal. i. 16.

  • 11.

    1 Cor. xv. 3.

  • 12.

    i. 1.

  • 13.

    i. 2, 3.

  • 14.

    ii. 18.

  • 15.

    I John i. 3; iv. 9, 14, 15.

  • 16.

    Mark xii. 35–37.

  • 17.

    Rom. i. 3.

  • 18.

    I Cor. xv. 45–47.

  • 19.

    Die Lehre des Paulus verglichen mit der Lehre Jesu, p. 45.

  • 20.

    “Zur Vergleichung der Lehre des Paulus mit der Jesu.” Stud, u, Krit. 1895, pp. 778 and 792–794.